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Wally Backman still stumping to manage in big leagues


For years and years, former Mets player and minor league manager Wally Backman was the media’s dream candidate to be the Mets big league manager. At least a certain segment of the media. Primarily New York ballwriters who covered the Mets back in the 80s, had good relations with him and realized that he was always good for a pithy quote or colorful story.

Actually, it was more than just thinking he’d be a good candidate. There was a sense that he was somehow entitled to be the Mets manager. When the Mets job was open or a Mets manager was rumored to be on the hot seat the “well, now it’s Backman’s turn” chorus began. When others got the job instead of him Backman became the subject of sympathetic “Backman thinks he was unfairly passed over” stories, the sort of which you rarely if ever see about the countless other passed over managerial candidates. If you Google “Backman Mets manager” you will find a ton of such articles and columns.

You’d think by now that that whole narrative had run its course, but you’d be wrong. Today Bob Klapisch — who has written columns stumping for Backman many, many, many, times in the past — has another one. This time in the New York Times, where Kalpisch catches up with his old friend who now manages the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. It’s a profile of where Backman is now, but make no mistake, it is also a piece stumping for Backman to get another shot. Basically all stories about Backman are stump pieces in the service of Backman getting another shot.

Which is hard to understand outside of the context of the writer’s personal relationship with Backman because, on the merits, there’ nothing that makes Backman any better of a candidate for a big league job than dozens or maybe scores of former players and minor league managers like him. Indeed, given that he was given a major league managerial job once, in 2004 with the Diamondbacks, and was fired four days later when it was revealed that he had misled the Dbacks over his sordid legal and financial past, which included multiple arrests, one of which was for domestic violence, it’s understandable if he was never even considered for such a job again. Heck, it’d be understandable if he never even got minor league jobs after that.

But he did get other chances. Backman forged on, working in the indy leagues and then getting a chance with the Mets in whose minor league system he served for many years, often doing a pretty good job. The problem, though, was that he didn’t get along with the Mets front office and was seen, fairly or unfairly, we can’t say, as not being on the same page as them. Which, in this day and age is probably the top job requirement of a big league manager. Guys with way longer and more distinguished resumes than Backman — Dusty Baker and Davey Johnson come to mind — have lost jobs due to a failure to communicate well with the front office or, at the very least, due to the perception that they didn’t.

None of which is a knock on Backman personally. He, in a lot of ways, is the platonic ideal of a fire-breathing old school manager, the sort of which used to populate the majority of big league dugouts. And it’s admirable that Backman has constantly hustled and worked, with two separate stints in the indy leagues, years in the minors and even some time in the Mexican League. He’s not one of those guys sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring and thinking that anything less than a cushy job is beneath him. That he’s kept at it and worked hard is to his credit.

But it doesn’t entitle him to be a big league manager. It doesn’t, as the scores of stories like this one portray things, make his failure to get one of those jobs some mystery or conspiracy against him. Hardly anyone gets to manage a big league team, including guys who spend 20 or 30 years in the minors. Backman is no different than any of them on the merits.

Those guys, however, don’t have a defacto press office working P.R. for them like Backman does, and that press office’s dedication to getting Backman hired someplace will always baffle me.

Cole Hamels done for year after just 1 start for Braves

Cole Hamels triceps injury
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ATLANTA — After making just one start for the Atlanta Braves, Cole Hamels is done for the season.

Hamels reported shortly before the start of a four-game series against the Miami Marlins that he didn’t feel like he could get anything on the ball. The left-hander was scheduled to make his second start Tuesday after struggling throughout the year to overcome shoulder and triceps issues.

The Braves placed Hamels on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Sept. 18,, but that was a mere formality. General manager Alex Anthopoulos already contacted Major League Baseball about replacing Hamels in the team’s postseason player pool.

“Cole knows himself and his body,” Anthopoulos said. “You trust the player at that point when he says he can’t go.”

The Braves began Monday with a three-game lead in the NL East .and primed for their third straight division title.

Even with that success, Atlanta has struggled throughout the shortened 60-game series to put together a consistent rotation beyond Cy Young contender Max Fried and rookie Ian Anderson.

Expected ace Mike Soroka went down with a season-ending injury, former All-Star Mike Foltynewicz was demoted after just one start, and Sean Newcomb also was sent to the alternate training site after getting hammered in his four starts.

The Braves have used 12 starters this season.

Anthopoulos had hoped to land another top starter at the trade deadline but the only deal he was able to make was acquiring journeyman Tommy Milone from the Orioles. He’s on the injured list after getting hammered in three starts for the Braves, giving up 22 hits and 16 runs in just 9 2/3 innings.

“There’s no doubt that our starting pitching has not performed to the level we wanted it to or expected it to,” Anthopoulos said. “I know that each year you never have all parts of your club firing. That’s why depth is so important.”

Hamels, who signed an $18 million, one-year contract last December, reported for spring training with a sore shoulder stemming from an offseason workout.

When camps were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hamels was able to take a more cautious approach to his rehabilitation. But a triceps issue sidelined again before the delayed start of the season in July.

The Braves hoped Hamels would return in time to provide a boost for the playoffs. He also was scheduled to start the final game of the regular season Sunday, putting him in position to join the postseason rotation behind Fried and Anderson.

Now, Hamels is done for the year, his Braves’ career possibly ending after he made that one appearance last week in Baltimore. He went 3 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on three hits, with two strikeouts and one walk in a loss to the Orioles.

Hamels reported no problems immediately after his start, but he didn’t feel right after a bullpen session a couple of days ago.

“You’re not going to try to talk the player into it,” Anthopoulos said. “When he says he isn’t right, that’s all we need to hear.”

Atlanta recalled right-hander Bryse Wilson to replace Hamels on the 28-man roster. The Braves did not immediately name a starter for Tuesday’s game.

With Hamels out, the Braves will apparently go with Fried (7-0, 1.96), Anderson (3-1, 2.36) and Kyle Wright (2-4, 5.74) as their top three postseason starters.

Hamels is a four-time All-Star with a career record of 163-122. He starred on Philadelphia’s World Series-winning team in 2008 and also pitched for Texas and the Chicago Cubs.

Last season, Hamels went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts for the Cubs.